The Paul Manz Organ Series
Season continues with Bach, Widor, and Franck
September 20, 2013 -- The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor is one of Bach's best-known works and has caught the imagination of many composers. It is used in the baptism sequence of The Godfather. An orchestral version is used in the opening scene of the movie White Knight. A jazz interpretation was recorded by Hubert Laws live in Carnegie Hall. This passacaglia -- a form consisting of variations played over a repeated eight-measure bass line -- had a strong influence on 19th and 20th century passacaglias, such as the Finale of the Brahms 4th Symphony.
The passacaglia's theme owes its first half to French composer André Raison. Bach adds another four measures so that the theme descends to the lowest pedal note. The variations that follow are extraordinarily diverse. The fugue states the theme of the passacaglia, always accompanied by a second theme. The polyphony is ingenious and builds to a tremendous climax on a Neapolitan sixth chord, followed by an eight-bar coda.
If ever a piece was worthy of the subtitle 'religioso,' it is Charles-Marie Widor's Adagio from the Symphony No. 5 in F minor. This is one of Widor's most beautiful slow movements. It expresses infinite calm through beautiful, shifting harmonies. It builds only in that it begins in five-part harmony and ends up in ten parts.
One of the most popular works of César Franck, the Choral in A minor comprises three musical building blocks. It begins as a fiery toccata. A few minutes into the piece, the actual choral theme appears. This alternates with the toccata, building to a solid climax. Then a beautiful adagio begins on a theme we have not yet heard. After this lengthy and gorgeous section, we return to the toccata figuration which, combined with the choral theme, drives relentlessly to the end of the piece.